Lasana Kazembe, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor in the IUPUI School of Education and in the Africana Studies Program. Dr. Kazembe is also a poet. As a spoken word artist, he has performed at colleges and universities throughout the United States, and at venues in Canada and Africa. For years he worked as a teaching artist and as an educational consultant. As a teaching artist, he developed and facilitated creative writing programs within youth detention centers, prisons, community centers, K-12 schools, and other learning spaces. His research interests include Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy, the Arts and Arts-based Learning, and Social/Racial Justice in education.
In his free time, he enjoys listening to jazz music. He also enjoys watching movies. He recently watched Steve McQueen’s new series Small Axe. The series details the experiences of African and Afro-Caribbean immigrant people living in London between 1960 – 1980.
There is a serious arts learning gap in this nation (right here in Indiana) and a gap in terms of students' access to real, authentic information about their Africana cultural heritage.
Professor Lasana Kazembe
Q and A with Professor Kazembe
I am a poet and a student of poetry first and foremost. For years I have worked as a teaching artist and educational consultant. So my relationship with the arts is foundational. I am also a student and scholar of Africana history. Unfortunately, our students are not given enough exposure to the arts, much less to Africana history. I conceptualized the elve8te program from a smaller format version that I developed roughly seven years ago. That program’s focus was the Black Arts Movement (1965-1975) and the Hip Hop Movement (1972-present). With elev8te, I thought it would culturally and educationally beneficial to expand the program to examine 20th century Global Black Arts Movements. There is a serious arts learning gap in this nation (right here in Indiana) and a gap in terms of students’ access to real, authentic information about their Africana cultural heritage. That was the stimulus.
The issues that my program addresses involve three aspects: 1) students lacking access to art learning experiences; 2) students lacking access to learning about Africana history & culture; 3) students’ low levels of geographic literacy (or, geoliteracy). My program seeks to address all three of these issues by giving students access to a culturally responsive arts learning curriculum that introduces them to rich, Black expressive arts traditions.
Since elev8te was launched, I have had the pleasure of working with dozens of students and teachers at three public schools in Indianapolis. These are young Black and Brown children who are now accessing, reading, and discussing the poetry, art, and aesthetics of artists from Haiti, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Senegal, French Guiana, Martinique, and of course the United States. They’re expanding their academic and cultural competencies by learning about the formalities of art criticism, writing in the poetic/prose form, and about the biographies of artists. In addition (and this is a central part of elev8te), student’s learning is impacted because they are learning about the political thrusts and historical events that brought the Global Black Arts Movements into existence. This means encouraging them to learn human phenomena such as enslavement, liberation movements, colonialism, as well as Black resilience, institution-building, and the centrality of culture. We cover a lot.
Locating and making connections. That is to say, I love being able to draw critical connections between the lives and art-making traditions of Black artist-activists from the twentieth century to today. For example, what do Aimé Césaire, Paul Laurence Dunbar, and Countee Cullen have to do with Hip Hop? What is the relationship between the anti-imperialist writings Jacques Roumain and the Black Lives Matter era? Locating those causal connections and joining young Black students in conversation about these things is my favorite part about what I do.
I was excited for this current installation to elev8te because the grant I received provided funding to cover two graduate assistants. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic forced me to revise that plan for the fall. Hopefully, will be able to involve at least one graduate student during spring 2021. I’m currently working with a school and looking to expand the program to another school during the spring.
I have (and enjoy) a really good working relationship with the Asante Art Institute of Indianapolis. We are in talks right now to have students from their program engage with elev8te. I’m also working with a local well-known church group. They heard about elev8te and they have expressed interest in having the program offered to youth in their faith community. That will most likely happen this summer. I am always looking for ways to deepen and strengthen ties to the local community.
The next steps of my research are to write and develop a series of curriculum guides. My idea is that these books (seven total) will be utilized by classroom teachers, teaching artists, etc. interested in facilitating the elev8te program. That’s a big task. I’m also writing two scholarly articles that I plan to submit for publication. Both articles are about my research with elev8te.
Conversation with Professor Kazembe
On Friday, February 26, 2021 from 12 noon to 1:00 p.m. Professor Kazembe gave a virtual presentation about his work on "The Living Tradition: Pedagogy, Arts Learning, and Liberatory Praxis."